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Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
Homily. Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 84; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8.

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Purple Stole and Gospel
Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 84; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8


THEME OF THE READINGS
God has not forgotten his people; on the contrary, like a shepherd who cares for each one of his sheep, he is coming (First Reading) to establish his kingdom of kindness, truth, justice and peace in a new heaven and new earth (Second Reading and Psalm). We must prepare the way of the Lord, like John the Baptist, proclaiming his coming to all (Gospel) and preparing it with lives that reflect that perfect future which only he can inaugurate in its fullness (Second Reading).

DOCTRINAL MESSAGE
The scandal of human mediation. Many entertain a secret hope that somewhere there must be a better world free of all human smallness and sinfulness –and where else but in the Church? The bitter disappointment that ensues when the Church apparently fails to embody this dream leads some to angrily reject her and seek fulfillment elsewhere, or else to attempt to fashion (with human hubris à la Babel) a new church that will realize their utopia. This, however, is what it is; nothing on this earth can measure up to the immensity of the desire for total goodness that God has placed in the heart of man. Moreover, he does not send angels to prepare his Son’s path, but men and women who share Christ’s humanity – with their human limitations, and peculiarities, such as John presented (Gospel) and as were apparent in the apostles – and in today’s Church.

And yet the God of all consolation, who comforted his people in their Babylonian exile (First Reading), assures us too that our ardent hope for a world where justice and peace will reign is not in vain. In fact, “the form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and …God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men” (CCC 1048)

Eschatological fulfillment. The picture of a universe finally consumed by fire (Second Reading) is typical Jewish apocalyptic imagery of the time. Its purpose is not to provide a literal description of the end times but to lend force to the eschatological imperative: “what sort of men must you not be!” How can we prepare the advent of the new heavens and new earth? The way proclaimed by John is still mandatory. It is repentance leading to purity of life that makes straight the way of the one who comes with power. Humble and hidden power soliciting our response, in his Incarnation; power that will know no resistance in his second coming.

Catechesis. The first line of St Mark’s Gospel is a synthesis of his whole message: the good news of (i.e. brought by, and concerning) Jesus, the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God. This is the basic Christian kerygma and the heart of all catechesis, quite superbly presented in the Catechism (422-429). The following section on the name and principal titles of the One whose coming John proclaims is also an option (430-455). Humanity’s goal and final fulfillment could be an appropriate follow-up if the previous catechesis has dealt with our origins (CCC 1023-29; 1042-1050).

PASTORAL APPLICATIONS
Holiness and prayer. The program proposed by Peter to first-century Christians happens to coincide precisely with the first two points of his current successor’s program for the Christians of the third millennium: holiness of life, and prayer (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 30-34). For one baptized by Christ “in the Holy Spirit” (Gospel) it is simply “a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity”. And serious Christian holiness calls for a life “distinguished above all in the art of prayer.” Therefore “our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love’.” It is true that we must work so that the “new heavens and new earth” begin to take shape here on earth; but such intense prayer “does not distract us from our commitment to history: by opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping history according to God´s plan.” Holiness and prayer are the beginning and the essential precondition of any Christian action in the world.

Witness. In some respects the Christian who gives witness to the priority of the things of the spirit and of the eternal over the temporal cuts as strange a figure in today’s world as John the Baptist did in his. Most of us are prey to the temptation to conform, to blend into the crowd and avoid ‘rocking the boat’. We are fearful of being seen as different, of being excluded or made fun of. Yet to fail to offer this witness – with words, actions, attitudes and choices which will often be in contrast with those of our contemporaries – would be to fail to make straight the way of the Lord into their lives –and into ours. Each one of us, by virtue of our baptism, is necessarily a prophet. To leave this function to the ‘professional Catholics’ – priests, sisters or the members of the parish council – is not to have understood the grace, the role and the essential commitment of Christian existence.

Simplicity. This does not mean that an ‘aware’ Catholic should deport him or herself with a foolish arrogance; on the contrary, each of us needs to adopt the self-effacing attitude of John, knowing that we are ‘useless servants’ and merely tend the way for the One who is to come. What we have to offer is not our insight, our wisdom or, less still, our virtue, but “the tender mercy of our God”, the grace and truth that comes gratuitously from Jesus Christ.

 

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